Few Minneapolitans have heard of Cloud Man, but the name of one of the city’s earliest recorded inhabitants may soon achieve better recognition.
That’s because three of his Dakota descendants sit on a citizen panel advising the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on renovations at lakes Harriet and Calhoun.
They want to restore the lake’s original name of Bde Maka Ska (White Earth Lake) instead of honoring John C. Calhoun, a once-powerful political figure who backed slavery and proposed the Indian Removal Act, an effort to relocate tribal nations.
But the group’s larger agenda is to more vividly commemorate the historical Dakota presence at the lake. That includes the Dakota agricultural settlement between 1829 and 1839 led by Cloud Man on portions of what is now Lakewood Cemetery.
The advisory panel is expected to play an influential role if the Park Board decides to enter the naming fray, although any such proposal likely would rely on favorable action by the Hennepin County Board and state Department of Natural Resources. Another option for a proposal likely to trigger fierce public debate is for the Park Board to ask the Legislature to bar the name of Calhoun and establish a process for selecting a new name.
The push for renaming the lake, which has attracted more than 4,000 signers to an online petition, has focused on Calhoun’s legacy as a forceful advocate for slavery. To Dakota descendants, his role in the forced relocation of southeastern tribes, which became known as the Trail of Tears, argues just as strongly for renaming the urban lake.
“I see it as a name reclamation,” said Kate Beane, one Dakota descendant. She’s a scholar and enrolled member of the Flandreau Santee band. Her dissertation focused on her family’s struggle to keep its cultural identity since the days of Cloud Man. “It’s a recognition of the name we gave this space as the original settlers who lived here far longer.”
As part of a $3.5 million renovation of Harriet-Calhoun parklands, the Park Board directed the project’s citizen advisory committee to address “historic and contemporary cultural concerns.”
The discussion of a name change for Calhoun goes back years, but so does Dakota interest in recognition of their historic use of it. In 2008, for the city’s sesquicentennial, then-Mayor R.T. Rybak and Beane’s father, Syd Beane, participated in a pipe ceremony. Rybak announced a committee that was to further research the site of Cloud Man’s Village and “make recommendations for acknowledging its importance as a historic place.”
For now, there’s one obscure and rather vague plaque erected in 1930 by the Daughters of American Colonists.
Besides Beane, her sister Carly Bad Heart Bull also sits on the lakes panel. So does Lisa Ferguson, who grew up in Edina without much background on her family history. She traces lineage both back to Cloud Man, also known as Mahpiya Wicasta, and Samuel Pond, one of two missionary brothers who attempted to convert village residents.
She, the Beanes and Constance Pepin, a Linden Hills resident, have tried to advance the idea of commemorating Dakota history at the lake.
Pepin continued to advance the idea after Rybak’s committee seemed to falter. In 2012, the Park Board authorized placing a memorial tree and marker near the archery range south of Calhoun. But that area flooded during heavy rains last summer, forcing a rethinking of that site, and money was never raised.
Dakota presence at the lakes goes back centuries. As the fur trade wiped out game in the area in the 1820s, after Fort Snelling was built, Dakota hunting parties needed to range farther.
Cloud Man and others were caught in a bad winter storm lasting several days, Beane said, and he pledged that if he survived, he would look for other ways to feed his people. He led the establishment of the village with Fort Snelling Indian agent Lawrence Taliaferro, who had been encouraging the Dakota to adopt a more settled agricultural existence.
In 1834, the first Pond brother arrived with an agenda of conversion that attempted to override traditional Dakota culture and spiritual ways. The band moved to the Bloomington area in 1839 after Ojibwe incursions left the village’s several hundred people feeling vulnerable. Cloud Man died in a Fort Snelling prison stockade in 1863 in the mass imprisonment after the 1862 Dakota Conflict (also known as the Sioux Uprising).
Some on the advisory committee say the name change issue is a distraction that could undercut efforts to memorialize the native presence in the area. Chairman Peter Bell said he thinks the group supports historic interpretation, but he mainly wants to focus on capital spending priorities.
Project manager Deb Bartels said that in September the panel will discuss design concepts that will include honoring Dakota cultural history.
To Beane, public debate over such symbols as the Confederate battle flag have created a new momentum toward acknowledging and correcting what some view as past wrongs.
“I think the chances are great,” she said. “It’s overdue. It’s long overdue.”